An Awful, Amusing and Artificial Christmas

Word meanings change over time. There is a great story that, nearing the end of the construction of the Cathedral of St Paul, the queen was taken on a tour of the nearly-finished cathedral by the chief architect, Sir Christopher Wren.  When the visit was complete, the queen told Wren in no uncertain terms that the new building was amusing, awful, and artificial. I would have been devastated, but remarkably, Wren was quite pleased.  Why? Because in the 1600’s, “amusing” meant “amazing,” “awful” meant “awe-inspiring,” and “artificial” meant “artistic.” See, word meanings change over time. In fact, until the beginning of the 19th century, weddings were still described as “awful ceremonies” (maybe many should still be described that way today!). I wonder if that is what is going on in Luke 1, that the words we understand to mean “good” and “wonderful” meant something else to Mary. When the angel visits Mary

On the Trail of Gratitude and Generosity, Part 2

There’s nothing like a good hike, except when you get lost. One of my favorite memories from when I was a kid was going to Camp Cedar Lake (not really, but lies aren’t lies if they are in a blog).  Camp Cedar Lake was a Christian camp with all the normal camp things—shooting rifles, making cheap crafts, swimming, canoeing (which often turned into swimming) and a hike up a mountain. Thinking about it now, I doubt it was much of a hike or a mountain; but as a 9-year-old, both were epic. Our guide up the mountain was our cabin counselor. Now generally, one would not entrust one’s life to a 17-year old who couldn’t find any better paying summer job than at a church camp, but entrust ourselves we did. And so, up the mountain we went; and before we knew it, we arrived at the top. As advertised,

On the Trail of Gratitude and Generosity

Please forgive me, but I am going a little crazy. There are two trails in Patapsco State Park near our house. Let’s start at the Thru Trail. You turn left, go between the roots of two gigantic fallen trees, go left at the intersection, take the ridge path overseeing the river, walk over this rocky area, wander a bit in the woods and then turn left at the marked tree. Easy. I’ve done it many, many times. Now, let’s do it backwards. Start off at the same marked tree, follow the trail, take the rock steps (which, yes, is different from the rocky area), go up the hill to the right, zig zag a bit, get a little lost, turn right, and bingo, bango you’re walking between the two huge roots.  Same starting points. Same ending points. But for the life of me, I don’t know where they connect. Somehow,

METAPHORS: Part 6–Quiz Time

Congratulations! You have completed the blog course, Four Metaphors for Evangelism. You have read every word, unpacked every parable and thought about every concept. Well done. There’s just one more thing to do. You need to take the final exam.  Now, there is nothing I like more than giving an exam. Sue Barker said, “Everyone loves sport, and everyone loves a quiz.” Now, I don’t know Ms. Barker, but I know she is right. Even Jo, who at first was really anxious (and maybe even a bit miffed) about being quizzed by me about topics she knew nothing about and cared about even less, now has a totally different opinion. But why wait for her to tell you how she feels. Below are four answers. Which one best describes her response to being quizzed today? Is it . . . She is annoyed at constantly being exposed as ignorant

METAPHORS: Part 5–Magnets

A true story (or so they say).  I put it in the form of a verse (which probably made the story even worse): There once was a songster with writer’s block Who had no more clever ideas left in stock. And so, in search of a creative spark, Wrote down some fun words -- almost as a lark. He cut them up and put them on a table And arranged them into verse as he was able. Hoping this act would cure his disease, It ended badly, when he had a big sneeze. What could possibly hold all these words down, But still allow him to move them all around? The answer was clear and simple to do, Attach the words to magnets with a dab of glue! He then placed them all on his refrigerator door. Everything was ready; he was free to explore! That’s why this guy gave

METAPHORS: Part 4–Disrupters

I love walks. I call them hikes (it sounds more daring); but if push came to shove, I would say a hike is just a walk in the woods. I also love Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”  Almost every day, our dog Ragna and I go hiking in Patapsco State Park; and when I am on a hike, life cannot be much better. But imagine walking down the sidewalk. It’s a nice day and you have little on your mind except that you want to enjoy life by taking a leisurely stroll. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone or something kicks you in the seat of your pants. You immediately turn around to see who dared

METAPHORS: Part 3–Spiritual Midwives

If I had to choose, give me Jimmy Stewart in Call Northside 777, or even Bob Hope in Call Me Bwana or the classic, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs with Sidney Poitier. I would also be happy with A Fish Called Wanda or the great Swedish movie (based on the book), A Man Called Ove. And if push came to shove, I would also agree to An Inspector Calls or The Call of the Wild or Better Call Saul or even Total Recall. I would agree to any of these, but please don’t make me watch Call the Midwife. Now Jo really enjoys Call the Midwife, and I am sure there will be people reading this who will side with Jo on this one (so what else is new?); but really, who wants to watch a group of overworked and overwrought nuns running around rescuing desperate women and delivering babies

METAPHORS: Part 2–Physicians of the Soul

Harry Potter is evil. I’m sorry, I meant to say that Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books is evil. All along we had hoped that Snape was Dumbledore’s friend; that while acting suspiciously, he was, in fact, in Dumbledore’s circle and not in the employee of “he who should not be named” (but I think his name is Voldemort). But in a crisis moment, when Dumbledore is surrounded by enemies, Dumbledore cries out, saying, “Severus, please. . . .”; but Snape doesn’t help. Instead, he kills Dumbledore. The weasel! (Sorry, I forgot to say “spoiler alert” before I told the story!). Now, such a betrayal is unconscionable, but I guess with a name like Snape, you’re destined to be evil.  But, a funny thing happens. In the last Harry Potter book, (spoiler alert!) we discover we had it all backwards! Harry extracts memories from Snape’s dying mind and discovers

METAPHORS: Part 1–Rocks and the Scale

I love rocks. There are, right now, in my study, within my reach (although I may have to stand up for some), 37 rocks that I can touch (add 22 more if you will allow me to take two steps). Now, some of these rocks are decorations; but many of them, I use. Some hold down pages of books. Some give me inspiration (but you have to hold those rocks just right) and some reduce stress. But some are just to have and to hold. Now, the bigger rocks are assigned a part in my stone walls (I know . . . I live in Maryland, but I have two New England stone walls). So, the rocks in my study are all generally the size of a softball or smaller. I have rocks from China, Nova Scotia, Sweden, Norway and rocks from various states. To be honest, if I go

Hearing Our Similarities

When we mishear a song lyric or a statement and replace it with others words that make far more sense to us, it is called a Mondegreen (see last week’s blog for the origin of this expression). Examples abound, but let me offer you just five: Instead of hearing, “Baby come back, you can blame it all on me” (from the song, “Baby, Come Back” by Player), some hear “Baby, come back, you can play Monopoly.” Instead of hearing, “Taking care of business,” (from the song of the same name by Bachman-Turner Overdrive), some hear “Baking carrot biscuits.” Instead of hearing, “Hit me with your best shot” (by Pat Benatar), some hear (or are going to hear from now on), “Hit me with your pet shark.” Instead of hearing, “I’ll never be your beast of burden” (Rolling Stones), many have heard, “I’ll never leave your pizza burning” which is a

Hearing Our Differences

Sylvia Wright loved to listen to her mother read poetry to her when she was a young child. In particular, she loved hearing her mom read from a book of poems and ballads from 1765, entitled Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (I’m sure we read this same book to our kids when we weren’t reading Batman or the latest issue of The Hockey News). In any case, Wright particularly love the sad ballad of the Earl and Lady Mondegreen which begins with these lines: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, Oh, where hae ye been? They hae slain the Earl Amurray And Lady Mondegreen. Makes you feel sad all over, doesn’t it? I mean, it was bad enough they killed the Earl, but to do in Lady Mondegreen, also—well, that is inexcusable! Shockingly, many years later, Wright found out that there was no Lady Mondegreen! She had misheard the line. Instead,

To Quote Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Okay, I lied. I am sorry. But I have an excuse. I am an addict, and we all know that addicts cannot be trusted when it comes to their addiction. I said in our last blog featuring Martin Luther, that we had now completed our series. I even said it strong and bold: “Read my lips, no more quotes.” But here we are again, being assailed with more quotes. But it is more than I am just a quote addict, although I do feel rather powerless when it comes to the question as to whether to quote or not (much like Kierkegaard said, “I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.”). It is more than that. I really wanted to be done, but the deepest recesses of my soul kept crying out, “How can

Say Hello to My Little Quote!

Marcus Aurelius left us this piece of great advice: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Amen to that! And think what a privilege it is to breathe in a great quote, to think about a great quote, to enjoy a well-timed quote and to love a fine quote! Indeed, it is a rich blessing! In fact, as we conclude this series on quotes today, let me remind you that to be given a great quote is to be thrice blessed (blessed upon its reception, blessed upon its pondering and blessed upon its sharing). Never forget that. Quotes are verbal blessings that can enrich your life. I know that is true, because it happened to me. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, not because I was weird or anything (let’s

Here’s Quoting at You, Kid

I have argued in this series, that, as Gary Saul Morson has said, “Quotationality defines us. We are what we quote.” I firmly believe this, but many of you are still unconvinced. However, I would be willing to bet that you love quotes and already embrace hundreds of them, you just don’t know it. That’s right, I would be willing to bet you are a Subconscious Quotaholic. But already you scoff!  “Even if it was true, how could you prove it?” you ask. Well step right up to my quiz of the day. I’ll give you 15 movie quotes with a key word replaced. I am willing to bet that you can easily replace the “wrong” word with the right one, thus proving my point. Go ahead, make my day! Just try not to “correct” these erroneous quotes! “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little quote, too!” “Why don’t

May These Quotes Be with You

One of my favorite books is a collection of quotes entitled, If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People? It is one of a half-dozen quote books that I have in my library. Why so many? Because I believe in the power of a great quote. I feel Joseph Epstein could have been talking about me when he said, “I am not merely a habitual quoter, but an incorrigible one. I am, I may as well face it, more quotatious than an old stock-market ticker-tape machine, except you can’t unplug me.” Amen to that! But I also believe that what the world needs now is more people who “own” a great quote and know how to use it. A great example of this happened this past Sunday. After Outdoor Church, I was talking to Ken about how much I enjoyed our “bluegrass worship” service (Ken played guitar and

I Quote; Therefore, I Am

Stephen Wright once said something I wish I had said (okay, I wish I had said several things he has said; but for our purposes, I am thinking of one thing in particular).  He said: “I wish the first word I ever said was the word, ‘quote,’ so right before I die I could say, ‘unquote.’" Now that is brilliant!  See, I am a firm believer that you are what you quote (if you already forgot that Joseph Epstein quote from last time, shame on you—for punishment, reread last week’s blog). In other words, quotes enhance all aspects of our lives (at least, good ones do—they may even put a smile on your face). And while the word-picture is a little disturbing, William DeVault is right: “A quote is just a tattoo on the tongue,” which means we should always have a good quote ready to go at a moment’s

You Are What You Quote

The title of our blog post today comes from a great quote from Joseph Epstein (the essayist, short-story writer and editor, not the bagel brother) who said: “I believe it was Gayelord Hauser, the nutritionist, who said that ‘you are what you eat’; but if you happen to be an intellectual, you are what you quote.” Amen to that, brother, and pass the bagel! As you all know, I love a good quote. And for three very good reasons. First as David H. Comins said: “People will accept your idea more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” Second, I also believe that Winston Churchill was right. I wish I was an original thinker and had numerous Ph.D.’s that would enable me to produce incredible insights and tremendous thoughts week after week, but that is definitely not me (as Popeye said, “I am what I am, and

The Right Quiz for Right-Thinking People

We start off with a quiz today. There are four questions. Which of the following (and you can check all that apply) were used to manage the Black Death when it was ravaging Europe? Medicines Quarantines Passports (individuals were given passports to identify themselves and tell where he/she had been) Spy networks (spies were sent out to monitor other cities to see if they had been exposed to the plague and would then warn the people back home) Running away Prayers Processions Which was the response of health officers to people who were not wearing masks during the Spanish Flu in San Francisco? Fine them $10 Throw them in jail Shoot them Remove them bodily from the city Where did the first recorded case of the Spanish Flu occur? Mexico Kansas Madrid Texas Which city handled the Spanish Flu epidemic better? New York Philadelphia Here is the question we have

Insights on Rights and Eating Delights (Part Two)

After last week’s shocking revelation that “Ring Around the Rosies” was NOT about the Black Plague, I decided to look into other nursery rhymes to see what they were not about. For instance, “Jack and Jill,” as is commonly reported, is not about the execution of Louis XVI of France (“broke his crown”) and of Marie Antoinette some months later (“came tumbling after”). I know this because the rhyme was published 30 years before Louis got guillotined. Plus, the original rhyme was not about Jack and Jill, but about Jack and Gill, two boys! “Rub-A-Dub-Dub” sounds innocent enough until you start to think about it. But its real meaning is even creepier. Apparently, this wonderful rhyme that we all recited while giving our kids a bath is actually a song about upper-class tradespeople (the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker) at a town fair getting caught peeking into the

Insights on Rights and Eating Delights (Part One)

I am not one to stir up controversy, and yet I feel compelled to do exactly that. I grew up knowing that the lines from a beloved nursery rhyme were actually sardonic words mocking the horror of the Black Death. From this knowledge, gained at such an impressionable age, I felt called to devote my life to sarcasm and mockery. As I grew older (and wiser), this belief in the “secret” meaning behind this rhyme was substantiated. The “Ring around the rosies” could only refer to the red rash that developed on the victims’ skin, a rash which would soon turn into painful black boils.  “A pocket full of posies” was clearly talking about the ancient practice of trying to ward off an airborne plague through pleasant odors (it is common knowledge that airborne viruses smell foul and can be fought off by a “mask” of pleasant aroma, hence, the

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